Guest opinion: Just a video? No, the risk is all too real
The coroner recently showed up at my house. She knocked on the door, checked to see if my husband was “Hollis Kelley” and then told us our daughter, Savannah, had been killed in a car accident.
It was terrible, but it wasn’t real. It was part of the mock DUI video the Glenwood Springs Fire Department creates to make high school juniors and seniors aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. But even a fake message by the coroner telling you that your 17-year-old daughter is dead was enough to make this mother of four burst into tears.
When Steve Sandoval of the GSFD asked Savannah to be in this year’s mock DUI video, a parent was required to watch the previous video produced in 2014. I was annoyed because it was one more thing to add to my over-scheduled mom life. As a former news reporter, I was weary of what kind of video this would be. I was wrong.
As an intense party scene played out with kids pretending to smoke pot, snort cocaine and throw back shots of hard liquor, I was a bit put off, even though I knew it was all fake, wondering whether this was really educational or giving my daughter ideas of party life. The kids were convincing.
However, as the story unfolded with kids leaving the party scene and getting into a terrible car accident, I found myself with tears rolling down my cheek. While this wasn’t my daughter, it was a family friend screaming, covered in blood while local firefighters cut a GSHS student out of the car she was trapped in. It was really touching to see a police officer I knew working the scene, the ambulance rushing down our city streets and Valley View Hospital personnel pronouncing the boy dead.
At the end of the movie, they asked for parent volunteers for the 2017 video. I said yes, not because I wanted to be in a video, but because as a mom, I knew our kids need to see how quickly a bad decision turns ugly, horrifying, even fatal.
It took six months to complete the video beginning with footage shot at a GSHS football game and ending with a coroner’s visit to our home.
So many community members participated, including a mom who hosted the party and ended up being arrested to show parents it’s not OK to provide a “safe place” for teenagers to drink, smoke or snort. Firefighters and paramedics showed us the standard procedures they go through to save lives, cut people out of cars and pronounce young people dead. Students battled freezing temperatures to lay dead under white sheets so the video crew could get all the necessary shots, and then took a trip to the morgue where they were ankle tagged, an experience no one usually gets to live to talk about.
A police officer showed us what it’s like to arrest a teenage drunken driver and check him into the jail. Jeremy Signorini from Two Rivers Multimedia made sure the shots were real, the music was moving and the editing was tight enough to grab high school students’ attention and make a statement about how real this could be. And the GSHS administration made time for a junior/senior assembly the day before prom, hoping to keep this scenario from ever playing out for real.
No one involved in the video was supposed to talk about it until it is shown. The day it is played at the high school, the kids who die don’t go to school. Sometimes, a single rose is left on the student’s desk. While it’s typical that there’s a lot of joking around and cheering during the party scene, absolute silence fills the auditorium as the accident scene starts to unfold and kids start being extracted with the Jaws of Life from the vehicles.
The other night, when I saw this year’s video for the first time, my stomach tightened up and I broke into a cold sweat during the opening. I knew what was coming and how it would end, and I wanted more than anything to get out of that theater. I didn’t want to see my sweet daughter covered in blood. The thought of watching her being loaded into a body bag was too much. And then a morgue scene? Would I ever be able to get that image out of my mind?
Luckily, I was able to squeeze her hand tightly as she sat next to me, reminding me this was just a video. I urge all parents to watch this, and then to watch it again with your teenagers. It’s just a video. But maybe a video that can save a life.
Ann-Marie Kelly lives in a Glenwood Springs.